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Portrait of a Seamstress: Paige

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Just outside Philadelphia, not too far north and west, is Bryn Mawr, Paoli, Narberth, Wynnewood, Haverford, Ardmore, Conshohocken and Merion. The entire area is known as The Main Line. It was the setting of the movie, The Philadelphia Story (gah! I love Katharine Hepburn!), and it has a much different vibe than Philly. To me, Philadelphia is like one borough of New York. It’s a little big city and reminds me of Brooklyn a little. The burbs, however, are picturesque. Very country club. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Since I moved here 6 years ago, I have seen a huge resurgence of sewing. Butcher’s Sew Shop and Made Studios are just two examples of sewing studios that continue to thrive. I haven’t seen that resurgence outside the city though. I might be wrong in that assumption. In any case, I believe there is both a need and a want for sewing in the suburbs. Indicative of this – open for just six weeks, Christine Shirley’s sewing classes are full. Booked solid. When Paige Sullivan first developed her business plan, she was very much at the center of it, but soon after opening, her plan shifted. Now, it’s less about reaping personal benefits, and more about providing a mentorship. A modern day girl’s club so to say. On the surface, she teaches sewing, but on another level, she is giving girls and women confidence and courage. Yeh girl!

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YOUR STORY

My mom taught me how to thread a machine when I was about 5 or 6-years-old. She was not into sewing. Threading was pretty much all she knew how to do. So, I am a self-taught sewist, and started off with scrunchies. I would crank out tons of scrunchies. They were straight lines with elastic encased – how much easier can it get?!

I always knew I wanted to be in fashion. I took basic home economics in high school and then attended Syracuse University. I majored in Fashion Design while also playing D1 field hockey (I walked on freshman year and earned a full scholarship by senior year). Anyone who has played a D1 sport knows how time consuming it is, and anyone who has studied fashion design knows how time consuming it is as well. So I was a pretty busy college kid.

During summer of my junior year, I interned for the Anthropologie store in New York City, working in visual display. At the same time, I was also interning for Laura Ashley and serving. I was a girl on the go – living in an apartment with 5 other girls in Hoboken and basically eating crackers. I was like 20-years-old at the time and loved it every bit of it.

Right after graduating, I got a job at the Anthropologie store in Wayne. It was my dream job. First, I was the Apparel Merchandiser and then Visual Manager and Merchandiser. I worked at that location for 4.5 years, then switched to the Walnut Street location in Center City having similar jobs. I transferred to home office and worked in their web studio, but it wasn’t for me. During all of this, I was a server at White Dog Café, and it was because of the connections I made and the people I met while working there that I was able to open this shop. When the lease opened up for this space, there were several people interested, and I was probably the least qualified. I had experience in retail, but I had experience running someone else’s business, not my own. The landlord, who is 89-years-old I might add, said to me the day I signed the lease, “I just want to be a part of you fulfilling your dream.” I share the space with a therapist, she counsels out of the back, and we work well together. I’ve been open for 6 weeks, have done no marketing, don’t even have a sign, and I am booked. I have women who want to learn to make curtains and I have little girls who want to learn how to thread a machine. It’s been all word of mouth – the town is excited that I’m here.

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YOUR GOAL

I want to provide more than just sewing. I want to be a mentor to girls, boys, women and men. With the little girls, we talk about school, boys, images, sports, music. They don’t know it, but they’re gaining confidence, and together, we’re building community.

YOUR STUDENTS

My most special moment so far was when a student came in wearing a necklace similar to mine –a chain with a small pair of faux scissors. Her mom said, “She wants to be like you.” You can’t pay for that, that moment is priceless!

DO YOU STILL SEW?

I sew mostly accessories – small clutches and handbags – which I sell in the shop. If I sew clothing, I repurpose. It’s hard to make a profit on clothing nowadays when you can find a similar item for $5. There aren’t many people who are willing to pay a lot of handmade, unless it’s at a couture level. I like quick, not couture, projects.

YOUR SEWING MACHINE?

I have a Tailor Professional. It is old, all metal and was gifted to me. I heard a rumor – I don’t know if it’s true or not – that there once was a black market of sewing machines. That people would steal old Singer machines, re-label them, and sell them at hotel convention centers. Supposedly, my machine is one of those!

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BEST THING YOU’VE MADE

My senior collection in college. I had a much different aesthetic back then – working at Anthropologie changed my style. I used entirely dupioni silk and it was very hip hop. There were chains! I imagined it would be worn at a performance or on stage.

WHY THE NAME CHRISTINE SHIRLEY WHEN YOUR NAME IS PAIGE?

My middle name is christine and my childhood house was on shirley drive. I’ll answer to Christine, people think that’s my name!

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM TEACHING?

That I’m pretty good at it, that girls need mentors and that I can change people’s lives through something as simple as sewing. I’ve also learned that Christine Shirley is not all about me, it’s far bigger.

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FOR FUN

What brings you the greatest joy? Peace, I love peaceful places, peaceful people, peaceful things. Florida. I also love watching people help other people. That brings me joy.
What are your vices? Sewing. That is what helps Christine Shirley tick. I simply LOVE to sew. I also love good food. I can very easily eat 3000 calories a day.
What is on your nightstand? Four different essential oils, a radio, my Bible, a bottle of water, a note book and lots of tissues (might I add it’s a very small night stand!)
Do you have a secret talent? I can make this weird shape with my tongue. Otherwise, no!
Favorite presser foot? All purpose
Favorite fabric? Vintage cotton tablecloths (cotton/ linen)
What gadget would you never leave home without? iPhone
What is one thing you wish you would have known when you were younger? To listen better, to take more time to learn and to remember what I have learned.
What is your favorite Instagram feed? @threebirdnest @theorganizingstore @belovely_design
What is the best gift you ever received? A red Volkswagen Beetle for Christmas from my mom and dad. They took it back about 5 months later when I decided to go see a guy in Cancun alone! They told me if I did they would take the car back. I went and they took the car back! He meant that much to me. At 21-years-old, I gave up the car of my dreams for a trip to see the guy of my dreams. Eleven years later, we are still going strong!

7 Comments

  1. Reply

    Clover

    This is such a great story!

  2. Reply

    oona

    her senior collection in college sounds amazing! :’–)

  3. Reply

    Teresa

    What an inspiring story!

  4. Reply

    trishstitched

    I absolutely love this story! I’m currently in the ‘living in Hoboken, eating crackers’ stage so its really cool to read a similar beginning. I love her landlords words as well, such a sweet note. Very inspiring!

    • Reply

      Paige

      Keep on believing!! I lived in Hoboken for a while & loved the energy. At some point, I would love to expand and open a studio there!! Paige

  5. Reply

    Kristianna Denise

    Such a great post, fresh links too!!

  6. Reply

    Cristal

    Nice to meet Paige and find out the story behind her company.

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